On Thursday, December 8 — Feast of the Immaculate Conception — Karen Martin will make her First Monastic Profession, leaving the novice phase of formation to become a sister of the Benedictine community.
Karen was born in Perham, Minnesota, to a farming family. She grew up Lutheran and while less-than-enthusiastic about church itself, she loved the organ music. As she grew through a childhood that she calls a “journey of forgiveness,” she began to feel a deep sense of the presence of God.
Several influential teachers helped her overcome difficulties in family and development. By fourth grade, she could play the organ and sing hymns and was memorizing prayers and scriptures — all of which she calls a better alternative to venting her childhood frustrations by “punching the kid next to me.”
Karen graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and went to the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Within a few weeks she attended Mass at Sacred Heart Convent Chapel. “At Mass I sensed a transcendence — a meeting of heaven and earth; the inspirational music and beautiful chapel certainly facilitated prayer.” At the age of 21, she was confirmed Catholic.
During college, she had a job working in central purchasing and worked alongside Sister Geraldine, a Benedictine sister who became a friend and mentor. Karen was first introduced to the Rule of Benedict when she became a caregiver to sisters at St. Scholastica Monastery in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Here, she experienced a family-like setting and was inspired by how the nursing floor was run according to Benedictine principles.
Karen considered religious life after college graduation but decided to wait. She went to work at St. Mary on the Mount Rehabilitation Hospital and the VA Hospital in St. Louis. After a year she entered military service as 2nd Lieutenant and was Active Duty Air Force for 6.5 years. During this time she earned a M.S. in nursing. After her military service she worked as an RN until she moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 2000 and earned a B.S. in Medical Technology. She worked as a lab tech and medical biller for the next several years.
Then her “next huge, life-changing experience” happened: She was hired as the organist for Sacred Heart Cathedral in Fairbanks where she was surrounded by people for whom “God was not simply a part of life. God is life.” She learned about lectio divina and other forms of prayer. “Christ eventually became the center of my life. I developed a mindfulness of God,” she says. “Also, since faith is not just about God and me, I made the leap to forming lasting friendships and becoming part of a community.”
In the ensuing years she developed a prayer life and lifestyle that was Benedictine in nature — balanced with prayer, work, recreation, and time with faith community. “I am much more centered. I strive for stability of the heart. I try to remain open to what God is calling me to become.”
Having always heard the call to religious life, at the age of 53 she decided to take action. She did an internet search for Benedictine communities and discovered St. Gertrude’s. She made her first visit in January 2013, returned for two more visits, and became a postulant in September 2013.
“I have a desire to share a common vision of faith and spirituality with like-minded people,” she says. “I like community life. It is very transforming. I am excited about the ministries that we do and helping behind the scenes with things that need to be done.”
Karen plays organ for Mass and prayer, plays the clarinet with the all-sister group “The Von Gertrude Ensemble,” works in the Development Office, and helps with a variety of other projects around the Monastery. She is also enjoying the Idaho climate that is comparatively warmer than Alaska.
“We travel on our earthly journey aware, alert, thankful, only partially at home, and with a barefooted soul,” wrote Karen in a recent reflection. “We all start at different places and grow at different rates on our way…Each day we are called to listen to God, those around us, and God’s Holy Word. We are called to live the ordinary life extraordinarily well.”
Karen Martin will make her First Monastic Profession at the Monastery of St. Gertrude on December 8, 2016, at 1:30 p.m.